Cycling: Fan who caused Tour de France crash goes on trial

The fan, accused of involuntarily causing injury and putting the life of others at risk, faces a fine and potentially a jail sentence.
The fan, accused of involuntarily causing injury and putting the life of others at risk, faces a fine and potentially a jail sentence.PHOTO: AFP

BREST, FRANCE (AFP, REUTERS) - The roadside spectator who caused a massive pile-up during the first stage of the Tour de France in June appeared in court on Thursday (Oct 14) charged with injuring dozens of riders on the cycling race’s first day last summer.

But according to a lawyer for a riders' union, prosecutors have called for a four-month suspended jail sentence. 

The court postponed its ruling to Dec 9, lawyer Romuald Palao, who represents the Professional Cyclists’ Association (CPA), which is party to the trial, told reporters after the hearing in the French city of Brest.

The 31-year-old Frenchwoman, whose identity was withheld after she was targeted by a torrent of online abuse, has already told prosecutors of being ashamed at her “stupidity”.

Wearing a blue sweater, she fled the scrum of journalists waiting at the courthouse.

But the presiding judge rejected a request by her lawyer to have the trial held behind closed doors.

The woman, who has no criminal record, had attended the opening Tour stage on June 26 with the goal of getting a sign noticed by TV cameras. It read “Allez, Opi-Omi,” the German terms for “grandpa and granny,” a nod to her family’s German roots.

But she stepped out too far in front of the tightly packed peloton as it sped along a narrow road toward the finish at Landerneau in western France.

Her actions sent one cyclist tumbling - with dozens more falling to the ground as a consequence. The young woman, whom a prosecutor said felt ashamed of what she did, is charged with endangering lives and causing unintentional injuries and risks a fine of up to 15,000 euros (S$23,500) and a year in prison. 

It seems unlikely that she will spend time behind bars, however, as the public prosecutor of Brest noted after her arrest on June 30 that she had some “personal vulnerabilities”.

Video footage of the collision and ghastly scenes of medics tending to stunned or grimacing victims sparked outrage among fans and race organisers, especially when they realised the woman had fled the scene instead of staying to help.

She remained in hiding for four days before turning herself in to police.

Several riders had to pull out of the race, including Spain’s Marc Soler, who had both arms broken.

The Tour’s organisers, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), had originally planned to sue but later said it wanted to “calm things down” and would not be a plaintiff.

But the Switzerland-based CPA has maintained its complaint and is seeking a symbolic one euro in damages to send a message against dangerous fan behaviour during stages.

“The damage suffered by the riders is physical, moral and economic,” CPA president Gianni Bugno said in a statement on Wednesday. “An athlete prepares months for a grand tour and it is not acceptable that all his hard work, that of his family, his staff and his team, should be shattered in an instant by the quest for popularity."

"The public is key to cycling races, it must remain that way, but it must be done with respect for the physical integrity of the riders," added  Palao. "This case is representative of what can happen with people who want to take centre stage themselves with pictures, videos. It has to be done with a minimum of common sense and this was not the case there."

The woman’s lawyer, Julien Bradmetz, declined to comment. 

A source close to the case said the lawyer could argue that race organisers had failed to take sufficient security measures, citing the series of accidents that marked the 108th edition of the Tour.